Dana out of danger, plans to add 50 jobs

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Six months ago, the Dana plant in Cape Girardeau was facing the very real possibility of being shut down as the Toledo-based parent company looked to slash 11,250 jobs across the country.

But today, while other Midwestern Dana plants are either being closed or seeing massive layoffs, the local manufacturer of automobile axle components is alive and well.

In fact, it's thriving -- the $23 million plant plans to add 50 more jobs by the end of the year, bringing the total to 380.

"Was this plant lucky? You bet," said plant manager Larry Dillon. "We definitely dodged a bullet."

Dana, in looking at five Midwestern plants, has decided to close the plant in Greensboro, N.C., and is likely to close the plant in Jonesboro, Ark., if it can't find a buyer, Dillon said.

Two plants in Indiana are seeing huge layoffs: a plant in Syracuse is being downsized from 377 people to 100 and the Fort Wayne plant will be cut from 1,150 to 800 workers. Dillon said all of the changes are expected to take effect by the end of the year.

Dana, which reported sales of $10.3 billion last year, said it was implementing cost-cutting initiatives to cope with slowing North American car and truck sales, which was only compounded following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Gary Corrigan, the vice president of Dana's corporate communications in Toledo, said the Cape Girardeau plant was spared because all but one of its lines -- which make carrier housings, differential cases and ring and pinion gear sets for axles -- are considered core products by the company.

Other plants had higher percentages of what the company considers peripheral products.

"We looked at the fact that we have too many assets that are duplicated," Corrigan said. "The Cape plant deals with products that are core to us, and plants like that are going to do well."

Dillon said the plant workers also helped save their jobs by increasing productivity by 12 percent over the last year.

"The people really stepped up," Dillon said. "Those things don't go unnoticed. It all goes to the bottom line."

At Dana, things haven't always been so positive. Initial discussions of plant closings coincided with union talk among some Cape Girardeau workers.

That's something managers and other workers thought might make the plant a stronger candidate for closing.

"Any union talk out here was certainly a negative factor," Dillon said. "It was a huge factor in Fort Wayne and Syracuse. Those are union, and now they're being cut back."

But Dillon said lately union talk has died down.

"I haven't heard anything about it in a while," he said.

Corrigan downplayed any relationship between unions playing a role in which plants were closed and which were not.

"We have our philosophy that we're open enough not to require a third party involved," Corrigan said. "There were union as well as non-union plants that were closed. We really were trying to look at the total picture. It's not a union issue, it's a business issue."

Dillon said the additional employees will be added because the Dana plant will have the Ford Ranger line relocated from Greensboro, and there's a new Nissan program to be implemented at the plant by the end of the year.

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